Digital Future and UX Culture: the AIMIA panel session from 24th Feb

Today we had a great morning at the AIMIA ‘creating the future’ event. James had managed to pull together four great speakers:

Chris Khalil, Director of User Experience, USIT @ News Digital Media 

Rod Farmer, Director – Research & Strategy, Mobile Experience 
(prev of Hutchison Telecom) 

Ian Muir, Chief Experience Officer, Westpac 

Faruk Avdi, Online Communication Manager, NSW Dept of Education and Training

I’ll let James introduce the reason for the session in his own words:

It can be challenging to get the business and even the web teams to understand the value of customer centred design – I believe this is a cultural issue. Changing culture is very difficult – it takes time, strategy, creativity, patience and above all you have to be able to sell the value to all levels of an organisation. I’ve brought together the best minds in the CX business from all sectors in the Australia digital space: the largest employers of CX people, the ones with the biggest reputations on the line if things don’t work, and the ones who have had the most success in understanding and changing their organisational culture.

Each speaker gave a 15 minute presentation before the panel discussion. If you’d like to catch what you missed (or see it again), the slides and video will be online next week. Really worth a watch if you are someone who thinks about how the attitude towards usability, User- or Customer-Centred Design, UX or service design should evolve within an organisation. Also worth it if you’re just someone who likes it when people know how to use imagery in presentations. There were some great insights – my pick are below but hit those videos to take away your own angle on it.

Here’s a gallery of photos from the event:


Chris had a look at Nielsen’s organizational maturity model which although he pointed out was a few years old (and he hinted that News Digital Media had their own) it’s a good place to start when thinking about which ‘buttons to keep hitting’:

  1. Hostility towards UX (just wait for the company to get hurt)
  2. Developer-centred UX (keep pushing at the people who are receptive to UX – use logic and flattery)
  3. Skunkworks UX (persude using results – compare before and after)
  4. Dedicated UX budget (collect examples of UX ROI)
  5. Managed UX (look for spectacular wins)
  6. Systematic UX process (convice all managers and staff that UX is part of their job)
  7. Integrated UX (evangelize to senior executives)
  8. UX-driven corporation

Hopefully we’re all past stages 1 and 2 by now as there has been a fundamental change in the acceptance of the importance of UX – let us know if you’re somewhere where hostility or developer-led UX still reigns. Nielsen’s model gives us hope that the final stage of “nirvana” – as Chris put it – is attainable where the organisation is driven by UX. But you have to take it one step at a time – there’s no point trying to convince your executive to let customer research guide which projects should be funded if your project managers are still only running the odd user test towards the end of a development cycle. Each step needs to be firmly embedded; keep pressing those buttons.

Watch Chris’ presentation below

Rod recounted how he took a disillusioned and dysfunctional UX team and turned them around (measurably) in 12 months. He showed a similar organisational maturity model but his talk concentrated on the people factors which lead to improved UX team involvement (and morale). Rod had some great insights (watch the vid) but my favourites were:

  • Rod banned email replies to design issues; the designers had to go talk at the desk of the developer. This brought cultural change, as talking face-to-face actually helps people understand themselves more (“a long hard look in the mirror”). Eventually other teams started collaborating at the desk rather than in the inbox.
  • Understand different people’s ways of doing UX (he described do’ers, carers, marshals and generals) and align your team to these roles.
  • As a manager, set the bar but not the task (and when they don’t meet the bar, resist showing them how to get there; let them own the work).

Watch Rod’s presentation below

Ian started with the lovely quote “culture eats strategy for breakfast” which lines up nicely with much of the sentiment in the event today from all the speakers. I’ve certainly worked in organisations where the grand strategy was killed by the culture. Ian also shared a quote from Gail Kelly (CEO of Westpac) that “every process, every project and every practice, be built from the customer’s perspective” (which may have elicited some envy from some people, to have CCD heralded from the very top). The quote hatrick was completed with “having a usable site is like having a restaurant that serves edible food”. Amongst these references Ian shared 10 steps to advance through the organisational maturity model he showed – I personally hope to experience at least one of the approaches he has used in his own team: the LEGO serious play kits

Ian’s presentation coming soon!

Faruk is one of the most philosophical (can I say transcendental?) of presenters and today he took us through 7 themes – Boundaries, Narrative, Method/Path, Ownership, Communication, Design and Capability. His own narratives about how he has taken the team from one-and-a-half people to thirty-five, and how he convinced the techno-centric characters from the first digital wave (“we tell people what they will use”) that UCD was the future are inspirational (and I always want to dig a little deeper into the juicy details). He described some of the general approaches he found successful in “teaching an old dog some new tricks” – from pointing out how the traditional delivery side of the Department was already very good at listening to the customers, to putting UCD in the business case so that the executive started to ask “what is this UCD?”. 

[watch Faruk’s presentation here – coming soon]

The panel discussion ran to about thirty responses so you’re not going to read it all here (hit
that video link) so here are some summarised tips from the customer experience veterans:

  • getting someone to view a real live user session is still the most powerful and quickest way to make them see the light
  • often it is the ‘gatekeepers’ who have to win budget whom you rely upon, and often they are not very good at arguing the benefit of UCD; either from an ROI or from a brand vision point of view.
  • you really need a UCD advocate on the executive table. This is one reason to champion ‘service design’ as it takes UCD upstream.
  • good ways to talk about the benefits are: 
    • (think about and) show how the outcome changes behaviour
    • stick to facts about the product, the people and the business
    • concentrate on the business case and show how UCD mitigates the risk of not getting the planned benefits
    • clarify the position in terms that gives people’s work real relevance e.g. we will help parents connect with their children’s education
    • use the feasible, plausible, desirable model; desirable demands some effort and measurement.
    • explain the contrast between before and after; the difference between no-action and action.
  • for a really good UCD effort you need to be well ahead of the development effort.

The panel session closed with a good discussion on the continuing issue of skills, roles, work practices and recruitment – although the panel couldn’t come up with a solution to finding those really good recruits.

[watch the panel discussion here – coming soon]

At coffee afterwards I heard the panelists say it had been “really good fun” and I think the audience would agree it was a morning packed with insights from some pretty rich experiences advancing four organisations to a greater organisational maturity. Thanks to James for organising the speakers, AIMIA for hosting the event and to Natalie Dagher from Viocorp for demonstrating her newly acquired video skills and for uploading the presentations for us all to enjoy again.


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About Objective Experience

Objective Experience is your partner for customer experience strategy, research, design and usability testing. Our team of passionate Customer Experience Consultants uncover insights from your customers to optimize customer journeys across all digital and physical channels – mobile apps, websites, systems, shopper and retail. We research on how customers interact with products, services and environments through interviews, surveys, focus groups, desk research, eye tracking and usability testing. Actionable recommendations are developed from our in-depth observations and testing. Our partners and clients come from a wide range of businesses and industries - from large financial institutions and government organisations to technical consultancies, Universities and not-for-profit businesses. Objective Digital Holdings Pty Ltd has offices in Sydney (Objective Experience Sydney) and Singapore (Objective Experience Singapore). Eye Tracking, CX, UX, Usability Testing, Shopper Research & Design Thinking across Australasia and South East Asia.

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